Driving for your driver

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There are plenty of people driving long distances. A driver may give you the opportunity to drive their vehicle if they get tired. There are some general requirements, though, regardless of where you are driving in the world:

  • You must hold a valid driver's licence and be carrying it on you at the time
  • If your licence isn't in the local language you are often required to have a translation available (applies, for example, in New Zealand and Australia).
  • You must be aware of the road rules and abide by them
  • The car you are driving must be road legal - often the driver can be fined even if it's not their car, so check any registration or road tax label is current
  • Usually the driver is responsible for ensuring other passengers (especially children) have their seat belts fastened where seat belts are required by law.

When driving, start off slowly and familiarise yourself with the vehicle as it may have handling characteristics you are not familiar with. Always stick to speed limits. New Zealand, Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, much of south-east Africa and a few other countries drive on the left. The rest drive on the right. See this graphic to find out which ones.

The driver might be concerned about insurance issues and therefore be hesitant about letting you drive. If a driver gives you permission to drive you will be covered under his or her insurance, however there might be a larger excess to be paid in the event of an accident.

Speeding fines

If you get a speeding fine on a foreign licence the police will probably tell you that they will track you down. This isn't the case, however if you don't pay the fine then eventually the legal process will result in an arrest warrant being issued for you. If you never intend to go back to that country again, you don't have anything to worry about. However, some countries (e.g New Zealand) will prevent you from arriving or leaving if you have unpaid fines. Bear in mind penalties can become severe if the fine is left for any length of time.

Australia

Australia contains a vast outback expanse with very little in the way of amenities. Their major cities are also hours drive apart, for example Sydney to Melbourne will take around 9 hours via the Hume Highway and Hume Freeway. Australians drive on the left. The majority of vehicles sold are automatics.

Speed limits, which are posted in kilometres per hour, are strictly enforced in many areas (as little as 3kph over the speed limit, especially in Victoria).

While road signs generally follow international conventions there are some differences and it's advisable to learn the road rules. Each territory administers its own roading, but the rules are fundamentally the same. You can take a free road rules quiz either via DKT or Roads and Maritime.

Australia is full of large mammals and birds that are particularly active between dusk and dawn. Kangaroos, wallabies, emus, cassowary and wandering livestock will cause a lot of damage to your car if you hit them.

Canada

The Canadian government has an excellent website for visitors driving in Canada. Distances and speeds are metric, unlike neighboring USA. Expect to see some road signs in French if you are driving in Quebec.

Watch out for large wildlife such as moose and bears on the roads.

New Zealand

New Zealand has a very small motorway network. Major cities are separated by predominantly single-carriageway road which winds through rural areas. New Zealand is excellent for hitching as the locals are friendly, but insurance is not compulsory so you will need to be careful unless your travel insurance covers you for accidents. New Zealanders drive on the left.

There are websites on which you can check out the Road Code for free. NZ Transport Agency administers the roads and also has a page for foreign drivers in New Zealand. Police are particularly vigilant with tourist drivers and will impound cars if they are driven erratically by those on a foreign licence.

United Kingdom

Drivers drive on the left in the United Kingdom. It's not unusual to see foreign left-hand drive cars from the continent on the roads, though. The UK's speed limits are in miles per hour and distances are in miles. Insurance is compulsory in the UK, so any driver will have at least third party insurance on their car (unless driving uninsured).

The Highway Code is available in full format from the GOV.UK website, but it's long-winded. There's a specific tourist-focused Highway Code quiz at Right Driver in English and Spanish.

Car insurance in the UK is different from almost everywhere in Europe (and possibly the world), in that a car is often only insured if it is driven by people actually mentioned on the insurance papers. If you are a UK resident and have your own car with insurance, your insurance may cover another car you are driving, but this may only cover legal liability. On the one occasion that Prino was asked to take over, he was asked to hand back the wheel to the driver as soon as the latter found out that he had no car and hence no insurance!

United States of America

Americans drive on the right. Each state administers its own road rules and there are regional variations in speed limits and road markings. Be careful of insurance liabilities if you agree to drive in America as it is a litigious country. Speeds and distances are posted in miles per hour and miles respectively.

You will need to familiarise yourself with the rules which you can do at a DMV practice website. While each state has its own online practice area, such as Virginia's website, it's often easier just to find a general DMV practice supplier which covers all states.